15 August 2008 - 13:14The Science of Tea

Ever notice that, when you are steeping tea leaves, you stir tea leaves and they seem to congregate to the center? Seems a little odd, doesn’t it, considering that centrifugal force usually pushes objects away from the center (like when you make a tea leaf paradox in action!left turn in your car and your body feels like it being pushed to the right)? This very quandary was actually tackled by Al Einstein himself in what he referred to as the “Tea Leaf Paradox.” Without getting too scientific, Einstein says the reason that the tea leaves don’t press to the edges of the cup is because friction at the bottom of the cup creates an opposing force that pushes the leaves back to the center.

Einstein’s tea-inspired revelation has recently had much larger consequences that can be applied to real life. Australia’s Dr. Leslie Yeo used this theory to come up with a quicker, easier way to test blood to measure cholesterol or glucose or immuno-deficiencies. Using this technology, all that is needed is a microscopic amount of blood, and the blood is ready for analysis in less time than it takes to brew a cup of tea! The testing device could be as small as a credit card, and it would greatly benefit those folks who have to take regular blood tests, as well as kids (remember how traumatic that first blood test was? I sure do!) .

I encourage all my readers to take a moment to make yourself a cup of tea, sip it slowly and let your mind wander and ponder. The possibilities are limitless for all amazing contributions to the world tea can inspire!

No Comments | Tags: Enjoyment, News, Tea Musings

14 August 2008 - 15:11Eat your Tea: tea eggs

Not only are eggs at the very essence of life, but for many of those living beings they are also an essential part of their diet. In virtually every culture, there are different ways of eating eggs: raw, hard-boiled, soft-boiled, over-easy, sunny side up try one. they are eggs-cellent!and scrambled, just to name a few. Perhaps one of the more interesting (and bizarre) eggs recipes comes from China, and (of course) involves tea. Tea Eggs, or Cha Ye Dan as they are called, are one of the most popular snacks served by Chinese street vendors throughout the world.

To make tea eggs, they simply hard-boil an egg in a salt-tea mixture (usually consisting of black tea - they say green tea turns too bitter, soy sauce, salt and spices), then they slightly crack the egg and hard-boil it again. The second time, the salt tea mixture gets in between the cracks of the egg, dying it in those spots, creating an almost marble-ized effect. The flavor is salty and savory, and the black tea really brings out the flavor of the yolk nicely.

According to the Taiwanese branch of 7-Eleven, over 1 million tea eggs are sold every year in their stores alone!

A great tea tradition and an easy, delicious snack for all occasions!

6 Comments | Tags: Enjoyment

13 August 2008 - 15:52Tea fuels the Dark Knight

By now, you’ve probably already seen the newest Batman movie, “The Dark Knight.” Critics are hailing it as not only the best film of the year, but possibly the best movie of director Christopher Nolan’s career. holy tea of the month clubs, batman!This is undoubtedly due (at least) partly to the incredible performance by the late Heath Ledger, but can also be attributed to our favorite beverage, tea.

You see, according to a recent article, one of the staple items that Chris Nolan always carried with him was a large thermos of tea. Tea is, after all, a great way to keep focused and energized throughout the long hours of the filmmaking process.

Seeing the result of Nolan’s hard work, I’d say the tea that he was probably sipping was NYC Breakfast (or Gotham City Breakfast, if you will). Strong and dark, with very rich, complicated character this tea is the perfect candidate for the role!

4 Comments | Tags: Enjoyment, News

12 August 2008 - 13:02Afternoon Tea vs. High Tea

It is said that it was the British (or to be more precise, Anna Maria Stanhope, the seventh duchess of Bedford), who introduced the famous practice of “afternoon tea” to the Western world in the early 1800s. At that time, the English only ate two main meals a day — a hearty breakfast (usually including a pint of ale) and enormous dinner. pop quiz: is this high or afternoon tea?Somewhere in between these meals, Anna experienced a “sinking feeling” and so began to prepare small snacks accompanied by tea. The practice of inviting friends to come for tea in the afternoon was quickly picked up by other upper-class social hostesses.

Now, Afternoon tea is often confused with High tea, but there are some rather important differences. First, while “high tea” sounds like an event for the elite, is was originally created by the working class rather than the upper class. Second, Afternoon tea is, obviously, taken in the afternoon, while High tea is more of an evening event. During the Industrial Revolution, working families would come home around 6pm for dinner. Meat, bread and butter, cheese, pickles and, of course, tea would usually be served (not the dainty finger sandwiches, scones and pastries of Afternoon tea). The moniker “High Tea” actually arose due to the fact that it was eaten at a high dining table rather than the low tea tables.

No Comments | Tags: Enjoyment, History

11 August 2008 - 17:05Monkey-Picked Oolong

A few posts back, I mentioned a legend of the discovery of tea involving monkeys. Since then, many inquisitive readers have been writing me to ask if this was also the origin of the name “Monkey-Picked Oolong.” Well folks, it is not.

George Macartney, Earl of NaiveteActually, the story behind Monkey-Picked Oolong is another legend in and of itself. In 1793, British ambassador Earl George Macartney traveled to China under royal orders to find out how the Chinese made the tea that England had quickly grown to cherish. The Chinese, not exactly ready to give up their millennia-old secrets, made things quite difficult for Macartney.  While most of Macartney’s questions were met with suspiciously blank stares, a Chinese tea merchant impulsively offered to explain how tea was picked. He told Macartney that tea growers angered the monkeys living in the tea trees and, out of retaliation, the monkeys ripped off branches and threw them on the ground as the growers fled. In this way, tea harvesters only had to pick them up.

Macartney never actually witnessed this zany picking method, but was convinced of its authenticity. He reported his findings back to the royal court, and the story took. For several generations, the legend was printed as fact in schoolbooks and tea drinkers all over the UK believed they were drinking leaves tossed by angry monkeys. Earl George Macartney is still fondly remembered in British History as, among many great accomplishments, England’s First Ambassador to China.

Personally, I’d rather have my tea picked by one of the many skilled Chinese human artisans that have been producing great tea for generations upon generations. You can keep the novelty of the nomenclature “Monkey-Picked” - I’d rather have good quality tea!

1 Comment | Tags: History

8 August 2008 - 15:20The music of the leaves

ol' timey tea picker“How ’bout a cup of tea?” That’s music to my ears. So it’s no surprise that songs praising our most delightful brew date back hundreds of years.

Many songs originated from tea pluckers who often sang about tea to keep their energy high and their spirits up while doing the same repetitive motion: plucking leaves from the waist-high tea bushes.

One famous Japanese song about tea, “Cha-Tsumi,” basically translates to:

In the weather beautiful,
Our girls pick leaves while singing,
Their noise a joyful sound, free of care.
‘Pick all you can, young maids, for if you
Do not, we Japanese will have no tea!’

I smell an American idol cover soon…

2 Comments | Tags: Enjoyment, History

7 August 2008 - 14:24Insights into the Chinese Tea Culture

With the Beijing Olympics beginning tomorrow, I figured it would be a great time to share a few things I’ve learned about the Chinese culture. Specifically, the tea-related parts, which have pretty much infused themselves into every aspect of the Chinese lifestyle. The Chinese take and serve tea for a multitude of reasons: as a sign of respect, as a wedding ceremony, not to mention an integral part of every social outing.

sorry we took all the gold medals!One famous way that the old-school Chinese infused tea into their lives was as a form of apology (I’m told they’ve since added the phrase “I’m sorry” to their vernacular). As any master of any of the world’s tea ceremonies will tell you, the art of preparing tea necessitates one to concentrate the mind to a simple purpose. In an almost meditative way, one must submit the self for the brewing beverage. The Ancient Chinese translated this feeling into real-life situations: by serving tea to someone you’ve upset (say, because you put shaving cream on their car when you were 12 then blamed it on the neighbor’s kid), it is a sign of submission and regret (Mom, you’ve got a steamy cup waiting for you!).

2 Comments | Tags: Enjoyment, History

6 August 2008 - 14:36Making the perfect cup of tea

I’ve received quite a few requests asking me to explain how to make tea the Sommelier way. I’ve slightly touched on preparation in a previous blog, but here’s the long version:

The trick to steeping tea correctly comes in three parts: time, temperature and volume.

a hot teaUsing too much tea will make your tea bitter and your wallet empty. Too little tea will bring a weak cup and possibly years of therapy. The volume that is considered the “golden ratio” of leaves to water is one teaspoon of leaves per cup of water. However, more voluminous teas (a.k.a. teas like white teas or green teas, where not as many actual leaves will fit on one teaspoon) can use up to two teaspoons.

Now, I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “some like it hot”… but I bet you didn’t know that they were talking about tea leaves! You should use fully boiling water (212F) when preparing most teas. However, some teas such as white, green and some light oolongs, can handle that kind of burn: you’ll need to lower the water temp to about 180F. How do you get that, you ask? Two ways: buy a thermometer or just watch the water as it is heating - when the small bubbles start rising to the surface, you’re at about 180F.

Finally, they say that “time heals all wounds.” However, it also makes most teas turn bitter. The rule of thumb is 5 minutes for most teas (slightly less, about 3 minutes, for green and white teas)– any longer, and they’ll taste almost as bad as a cup of English coffee.

Using this method, you’ll not only have a better taste in your mouth, but a happier life!

1 Comment | Tags: Enjoyment

5 August 2008 - 12:51Unique tea traditions: Tibet

In virtually every corner of the world there is an existing tea tradition, all with their own specific ways to make and take tea. Some fairly ordinary (to us), some pretty bizarre. None more trying to the limits of gastronomical imagination, perhaps, than the tea in Tibet.

In the Tibetan culture, the people boast that one should drink up to 40 cups of tea a day. And a good host, it is said, should ensure that his or her guest’s cup is never empty. A courteous, healthy tradition, wouldn’t you say?

perfectly rancid and part of a nutritious breakfastPo cha, or Yak Butter tea as it is translated, is clearly an ordinary part of Tibetan life. However, the ingredients are quite extraordinary: black tea (usually compressed with yak dung), a handful of salt and a lump of rancid butter. While this sounds like the result of a elementary school lunchroom dare, this tea was been served since long before the United States existed, so who are we to judge?

I had to try it for myself. After all, I claim to be your source for all things tea!

“Luckily” for me, NYC has everything. There’s a great Tibetan restaurant in the East Village called Tsampa that just so happens to serve Po Cha! Somewhat reluctantly, I ordered it (no one else in my group was brave enough) - even the server seemed a bit surprised. What shocked me most was the color when the brought the tea to me: the color was somewhat purplish with a thick layer of something resembling cream.

I cannot say I overly enjoyed the flavor of Po Cha, but neither can i say it was the worst thing I’ve ever tasted (I’ll write about that experience some other day). The liquid is thicker than what we Westerners perceive as ‘tea’ and it is fairly salty. Once I stopped thinking of it was a tea-related beverage and instead imagined it was a soup, though, I was able to easily finish the whole thing without too much perturbation.

Would I recommend it? If you are adventurous, yes… but it is definitely not for everyone.

I urge you to try a new tea tradition for yourself!

4 Comments | Tags: Enjoyment

4 August 2008 - 18:28Tea Master Yu

One day, while casually walking down an old Japanese road, the tea master Yu See accidentally bumped into a soldier. He quickly apologized, but the belligerent soldier demanded to face the tea master in a duel.

ol' timey samuraiYu, who was by no means a swordsman, asked the advice of a Samurai he’d met. As he listened to the tea master’s troubles over a cup of tea, the Samurai could not help but notice how the tea master performed his art with perfect focus and serenity. “Tomorrow,” instructed the Samurai, “when you duel, hold your weapon above your head ready to strike. Face him with the same concentration and tranquility with which you’ve performed this tea ceremony.”

The next day, at the appointed time and place, Yu followed his advice. The soldier, preparing to strike, stared into the calm eyes of the tea master and was stunned by his clarity in such a dangerous situation. The soldier lowered his sword, apologized for his insolence and quickly retreated. The tea master had ended the battle without striking a single blow.

We all have that awful boss or hot-headed friend that never quite grew out of being the school bully. Your favorite Tea Sommelier urges all readers to remember what tea master Yu did and follow this ancient wisdom. Earn the respect of everyone by perfecting the things that you love to do. Either that, or “accidentally” knock your teacup onto your bully’s lap. After all, no one likes to be known as Tea Pants.

4 Comments | Tags: Tea Musings